2007 Lower Section National Finals - Fourth Section retrospective


It was Ben Hur meets Gladiator in the Fourth Section, but it was a female leader who beat off her rivals to claim Caesars crown.

Just when you thought you had heard enough from the historic annals of Ancient Rome, Sunday morning saw another dollop of sword and sandal epics in the form of Leigh Baker’s highly enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining ‘Roman Tryptych’

This time the inspiration came not from literature, but from the cinema and Leigh’s homage to the great films of Ben Hur and Gladiator. The players, conductors and even the small audience in the conference centre auditorium enjoyed every minute of the piece – a cracker that really evoked in the three movements, colourful musical pictures of Charioteers, Pilgrims and the great Roman Colosseum.

Handful of silverware: Louise Hough grabs all the prizes

However, it also made for a pretty lengthy contest too, with the first band taking to the stage at 9.30am and the last over 6 hours later. 20 bands were too many and despite the enjoyable musical fare, it was still a pretty exhausting listening experience with performances of varying quality.

The best bands really did deliver musical pictures of Rome to savour, with the chariot races full of vibrancy (and not too much death defying speed, which for some resulted in the odd wheel coming loose), the pilgrims quietly going about their good intentions and the final day out at the Colosseum chock to the brim with the blood and guts of brave gladiators.

Overall it was very much a team piece, asking some searching questions of the ensemble and of the conductors (the start of the third movement was rarely mastered all day with its tricky chances in time signature) although the individual highlight was the difficult euphonium cadenza and the small but important passage that preceded it.

Both judges mentioned to 4BR and the audience before the announcement of the results that these were the areas that they were looking at. Both stuck to their guns throughout to come up with their result, even though there was the odd raised eyebrow or two when a couple of bands fancied in the hall were missing from the results.

The first band to take to the stage was Ramsay Town and they certainly enjoyed themselves with plenty of smiles on show from first note to last. It was a brave old effort too as the piece certainly stretched them to the full, but fine direction by the MD and some super playing in a well drilled performance (especially the young lad on soprano) showed that they had given it their best shot.

They may have ended up in 16th place come the results but there was so much to admire about their performance. The future looks rosy for this band if they can keep on improving.

Hungerford Town followed on stage and produced a real marker for the rest of the field to try and come and beat. Big, bold and full of brio, Rome really came to life from rasping troms to red blooded cornets. In the end it gained 7th place – about right, but it was a super show off a very early draw.

The Welsh representatives of Gwaun Cae Gurwen also put up a good show with a fine start and close to the outer movements just robbed a little in the middle section when nerves got the better of them somewhat – although not their super little flugel player Dylan Bale who was on cracking form.

On a day when lots of bands were roughly of the same standard they could count themselves a touch unlucky that they came 15th and not a bit higher up the prize table.

St. Breward Silver certainly stamped their sandal mark on the contest with a cracking show that eventually saw them come 4th overall.

St Breward
Experience counts: St Breward take 4th spot

MD Gary Lannie really made it a turbo charged chariot race, whilst his pilgrims were confident and bold. By the time the troms had really set out their stall in the final section things were looking very good indeed and the tooth and claw interpretation was one that would take some shifting. Only three very good performances did that in the end, so even though they will be a touch disappointed they could be very proud of their efforts too.

The high standard that had been set from the start continued with Flookburgh and a performance that had plenty of horsepower in the opening section, a touch of nerves with the pilgrims, but a great fight to the death at the Colosseum. A decent result was always on the cards given the quality of the playing and it got just that in coming home in 6th place.

Trio to the prizes: Flookburgh's troms lead the band into sixth place 

At the other end of the prize table saw Great Yarmouth – a touch unfortunate for us, came in 19th place. This was perhaps a rather sanitised musical picture of Rome, with a bit more daring do required in the chariot race and over- subdued pilgrims. The Colossuem was also a bit too family friendly too, but overall it was a performance full of neat ensemble playing even if it did need a touch more of the X rated blood and gore to have really come to life.

Bream Silver also went for comfort rather than edge of the seat stuff throughout their well managed performance, and coming straight after Great Yarmouth it was perhaps a contributory factor that saw them also come close to the bottom of the prize list. If they could have just employed the red blooded playing of the last movement in the first section and just made more of the Pilgrims lyrical qualities it would perhaps have paid greater dividends than 18th place.   

We thought Cross Keys were a possible dark horse to come in the prizes after they delivered a well thought out account that was fast but controlled in the chariot races, had plenty of lyricism in the pilgrims section and enough good old ruck and maul fighting at the Colosseum. Not so in the box though, and the approach didn’t quite register, finishing up in a rather unfortunate 17th place. Unlucky.

Hair today...Skelmanthorpe B head for the prizes

Skelmanthorpe B on the other hand fully deserved their 3rd place. A colourful picture of Rome, full of the good, the bad and the occasional ugly was entertaining stuff from the word go. A cracking pace at the chariot race was replaced by pilgrims all singing off the same hymn sheet, before a rousing day out at the Colosseum rounded things off with real brio, even if there were times when it just got a little too OTT in places. It was an entertaining effort though.

The final band of the first half of the contest was Crofton Silver under Malcolm Simpson and they were surely heading for the victory laurels after producing two exceptional movements, before the chariot wheels fell off somewhat in the third.

Nearly a winner: Crofton get two thirds the way to victory

The opening chariot race was bold and fearless with perhaps the best tiger and lion impression of the day from the trombones, whilst the pilgrims were purposeful yet lyrical. There seemed little that could stop them until they just lost their heads and enthusiasm and excitement got the better of the band and the last movement became scrappy and error strewn. 5th place was still a fine result, but it could, and possibly should, have been better.

With the judges off for a well earned break most people in the hall would have felt that it was turning into a cracking contest albeit, a long one. There was more quality to follow too.

First band after the break was Amington under Wesley Kendrick, and they produced a super show. A high-octane chariot race gave way to confident but finely shaped and lyrical pilgrim section, before a classy day out at the Colosseum that saw plenty of blood and guts but all done in the best possible taste. It was hard to fault and was a class above the rest of the field and a clear leader.

Concentration! Amington's percussionist deep in focus

All they had to do now was to hang on and glory and the National title would be theirs. It lasted just a few minutes in fact, but they could still be mightily proud of their efforts – it was playing of a very quality indeed and 2nd place was thoroughly well merited.

Perhaps the small audience didn’t know it but what followed was the winners in the shape of Formby conducted by the splendid Louise Hough.

It wasn’t a performance that immediately caught you by the scruff of the neck, but one that grew in stature the longer it went on.  A slight trip to the opening wasn’t the most auspicious of starts but thereafter it was a well controlled and colourful account. The highlight was undoubtedly the middle section, perhaps the best of the day, that had a fine feeling of lyrical flow – it really was top class playing.

The talented Michael Jackson: Formby's star euphonium player picks up his solo prize

More was to follow with a cut and thrust trip to the Colosseum that had all the ingredients in the right place, including a superb bit of euphonium playing from Michael Jackson to take the Best Instrumentalist prize.

The lead up to the euphonium cadenza had rarely been heard all day, whilst only a small handful of players really nailed it when they got there. Michael made sure his was not one of them with a lovely introductory lead up and a super cadenza that had just the right touch of showmanship. On a day when the judges were very generous in their assessment of the standard of euphonium playing (overall for us it was pretty poor) this was a high quality effort and it rounded off a fine, if not all together perfect performance from the band that they felt was now the one to beat.  In the end, no one could touch it.

That was a bit of a surprise as Uppermill who where the next band to take to the stage certainly made an impression on many people in the hall, but not the two men in the box.

This for us was the most complete performance of the day, but not so for Allan Ramsay and David Hirst. A commanding opening section gave way to a solid middle movement before a well structured, detailed and committed final section rounded off a performance that seemed a clear leader for us and one that did MD Alan Widdop proud.

Speaking to the judges after however it was clear that they felt it lacked for dynamic contrast and control, pointing out that it was too scrappy to really make more of a mark than it eventually did – in 12th place. There is always one band that gets a bit of a rough deal at a contest and perhaps on this occasion Uppermill was it. We had it as our winner, but we were well off the mark – but then again so were many others, as the only correct decision was the one to be found by the two men in the box.

Pendennis Brass meanwhile also placed their credentials on the line with a powerful performance off the number 14 draw that also won many admirers in the hall and eventually came home in 8th place. 

The opening section had all the right things in place even if it just lacked a touch of finesse at times, whilst the second movement was boldly painted even if there were a couple of tuning issues at times. More powerful playing in the third section put them firmly back on track and even though they had a few moments of unease towards the end, it all added up to a pretty good account that certainly got what it deserved.

Newstead Youth was one of many bands on the day that just took a little time to get going (lots of bands had a bumpy start to the piece) and the first movement was just a little underpowered in places. Tuning seemed to cause a few problems too in the middle section but a good old scrap in the Colosseum put things back on track and in the end they could be well pleased with coming home in 10th place and taking some notable scalps.

Unfortunately Dundee Instrumental ended up at the bottom of the prize table after a performance that never quite captured the vibrancy in the outer movements or the need for control and balance in the middle section.   It was a brave old fight against some pretty overwhelming odds, but in the end the Scots came out on the losing side on this one.

Cubbington and their MD certainly made an immediate impression (great trousers from the conductor Paul Johnson in fact) and although they had a bit of a wobbly start they soon recovered and delivered an eventful trip up the Tiber. A decent opening movement gave way to an untuneful pilgrims section that must have cost valuable points, before they recovered to end with a rousing and dramatic trip to the Colosseum. The plus points outweighed the minus ones by a good margin though and 13th place was about right for their strong efforts.

Buckhaven Methil Miners will return back home knowing that they couldn’t have played much better. Perhaps they could have eradicated the costly little errors that just robbed them of points throughout the three movements of the set work, but then again, perhaps not. Overall it was a performance that always held the attention, sometimes for the odd wrong reason perhaps, but nonetheless it was an enjoyable picture postcard of Rome and 11th place was bang on the money.

That just left the final two bands and Chalgrove were the first to try their luck at the end of a long day. The band certainly got into the mood with the piece and although it was a fairly bumpy old ride up and down the Appian Way it was also an enjoyable one too with super tigers in the first movement to add to the colour and spectacle, some well meaning pilgrims, and a real crash, bang, wallop day out at the Colosseum.

It wasn’t ever going to be enough to push into the top six, but a well deserved top ten place in 9th was good value for an enjoyable musical picture of Rome.

The final band were Marske Brass and a performance that was enjoyable to say the least. Something’s came off well whilst others didn’t, with a nervous pilgrim section their Achilles heel. The outer movements though were vibrant and at times close to the edge, but overall it was an enjoyable account that deserved its final placing of 14th.

With all the bands done the judges took a considerable amount of time sorting them out in an order, which they felt was correct. No problems with the top six bands at all, although perhaps Uppermill should have topped the lot for us. The judges didn’t think so though and they gave the thumbs up and the title to a delighted Formby and Louise Hough. That was the only decision that really mattered on the day.

Iwan Fox.


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